In June, lawyers gathered in Boston for the first of what will be an annual conference on how to sue major fast-food firms for creating what they call an "addiction" to processed foods.

A new research report by U.S. investment bank JP Morgan says that overweight people intent on suing food companies for making them fat are most likely to target Hershey, the firm most North Americans associate with chocolate. British food giant Cadbury Schweppes came in second.

The U.S. investment bank ranks 16 companies most likely to be sued in Obesity: The Big Issue. The 40-page report comes amid concerns the food industry could face a barrage of crippling lawsuits from consumers blaming obesity on the makers of junk foods, not on their own decisions to eat french fries and candies to excess.

"We believe one thing is certain: Well-capitalized law firms with a wealth of expertise in tort action lawsuits in tobacco and asbestos will continue to target the deep pockets of the food companies," the report says.

Gee, I guess the tobacco lawsuits really were all about the money all along.

Then again, maybe you haven't heard what Surgeon General Richard Carmon said recently while testifying at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on smokeless tobacco and reduced risk tobacco products. Carmona was asked if he would "support the abolition of all tobacco products."

"I would at this point, yes," he replied.

Not being a legal guy, he couldn't say whether he'd support a law to ban tobacco, but he did say he'd "support banning or abolishing tobacco products."

"If Congress chose to go that way," Carmona said, "that would be up to them. But I see no need for any tobacco products in society."

In case you haven't guessed, those are the harshest anti-tobacco words to ever be uttered by a Surgeon General. If any good can be found from this story, it lies in the fact that the Bush administration quickly distanced themselves from Carmona's comments.

Even a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids agreed that a ban wouldn't really be an effective way to deal with youth smoking.

"We would all like to see a tobacco-free world," he said. "But the reality is that there are 45 million Americans who are smokers, and we can't just take away their tobacco."

Well, a lot of people certainly are trying. They're taking away all dignified venues for enjoying tobacco in social settings. And nothing but greed fuels the legal assault on giant companies who are being held "accountable" for preying on innocent citizens. Product liability has come a long way. Lead paint. Asbestos. Tobacco. Now, Hershey bars and Oreo cookies. Has any parent ever told their child to eat all the junk food you want? Not where I grew up. Something has gone terribly wrong.

We've become a society that expects to take no responsibility for any actions. One individual sued McDonalds because the coffee in her cup was hot. Now, every takeout cup of coffee in America warns: "Caution, Contents Hot."

It's maddening. Could a coffee drinker really not known that coffee is hot? Or maybe, just maybe, was it all about the money?

E. Edward "Ted" Hoyt III